Edward Tabash - The U.S. Presidential Election and Secular Values Voters

October 17, 2008

Edward Tabash is a constitutional and civil rights lawyer in Beverly Hills, California. He has chaired the National Legal Committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State since 1995, and has argued and won before the California Supreme Court. He also sits as a part-time judge for the Los Angeles County Superior Court system. He has successfully represented the scientific outlook and secular humanism in public debates against the leading Christian philosophers around the world. In addition to serving on the Board of the Center for Inquiry and chairing the Council for Secular Humanism’s First Amendment Task Force, he chairs the Center for Inquiry's Los Angeles branch.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Edward Tabash explores issues valued by secularists and why they hang in the balance in this U.S. Presidential Election.  He talks about gay marriage and abortion, and how both of these rights depend on a government neutrality in matters of religion. He details ways that pseudoscience and junk science are used to advance religiously derived public policy arguments against gay marriage and abortion. And he talks about global warming skepticism, and the need for scientific integrity in public policy. He emphasizes how the next U.S. President will reshape the Supreme Court, and what that portends for science and secular values. He also explains his role in gay rights victory with the Supreme Court of California earlier in 2008, and why he opposes Proposition 8, a proposed ballot measure in California that would amend the State Constitution to deny marriage rights to homosexuals.

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Vote NO on Prop 8

Related Episodes

Chris Mooney - Science, Politics, and the Midterm Election
November 3, 2006

Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

The link for “download MP3” doesn’t link to a file, it just returns to the top of the description for the episode.

Update: The link was corrected about 10 minutes after my initial post, so now it works perfectly.

Posted on Oct 20, 2008 at 6:38am by gavinfulmer Comment #1

I am not sure where to start. This is my first post. I listened to this podcast and was so incensed that I had to post.

The logical argument against abortion comes down to whether children are people or not. This is due to the arbitrary choice of where to call a fetus human. Except for conception and birth any other choice is arbitrary. I will err on the side of caution.

If you look at countries where gay marriage is legal you will see that the meaning of marriage is diluted. This cannot be a good thing.

I think I trust the trust the conservatives more than the liberals.

BTW, I am an conservative atheist.

Posted on Oct 22, 2008 at 7:08am by morlockberry Comment #2

If you look at countries where gay marriage is legal you will see that the meaning of marriage is diluted.

What do you mean it is diluted? Isn’t it strengthened by allowing more people to marry?

Posted on Oct 22, 2008 at 7:10am by dougsmith Comment #3

What will you do when a polyamorous group asks to be married?

I realize this is not a strong argument. I am not opposed to same-sex marriage. I just worry about unintended consequences.

BTW, it is very hard to find any unbiased research on this subject.

Posted on Oct 22, 2008 at 7:23am by morlockberry Comment #4

Actually, I think that the meaning of marriage is fairly simple, legally: two consenting adult humans create a contract describing mutual personal and financial responsibilities. Other arrangements, such as what Mormon’s now politely refer to as “plural marriage” or a relationship between a person and an animal or an inanimate object, would certainly not qualify. If one accepts the axiom that marriage is a good institution because it promotes stability in relationships, compared to other relationships without the force of a contract, then more marriages would be good for society—even if they are marriages between individuals of the same gender.

The question of whether there is any research might focus on the relative stability of marriages between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. However, there is no data on this issue available in the US. I’d like to hear more about data available from countries that have a longer history of allowing same-sex marriage, and how that compares to the opposite-sex population.

Posted on Oct 22, 2008 at 8:13am by gavinfulmer Comment #5

That is the reason I did not bring up the stability of same-sex marriage. I don’t see that as having any bearing on the basic question.

But I am also not convinced that just because one doesn’t believe it will happen that it won’t. These other groups may make the same or similar arguments that same-sex marriage proponents are making now.

Posted on Oct 22, 2008 at 8:21am by morlockberry Comment #6

These other groups may make the same or similar arguments that same-sex marriage proponents are making now.

But as you note, this is a very weak argument. It’s completely irrelevant to the case of making gay marriages legal that someone else may ask to make something else legal.

We’ll take the other case when and if it happens.

Posted on Oct 22, 2008 at 8:32am by dougsmith Comment #7

What will you do when a polyamorous group asks to be married?

What about allowing them to marry too?.

I just worry about unintended consequences.

Not sure what consequences are you thinking about. Can you explain a little more?

BTW, it is very hard to find any unbiased research on this subject.

I don’t see why a research is needed. It is about freedom , not about convenience.

Posted on Oct 22, 2008 at 9:31am by Barto Comment #8

Okay, as a bisexual man in a polyamorous marriage with my husband and two wives, let me clear up a few issues here:

The actual definition of marriage is: the union of two or more consenting adults.  How do I know this?  Because that is the only definition that accurately reflects world history and practices.  The practice of all forms of polygamy (polygyny, polyandry, and polyamory) is found in all cultures historically, and predates preferential monogamous pair-bonding by several millennium.  Polygamy is legal in countries that practice Theravada Buddhism (Southeast Asia) and Islam (Middle East).  In Western societies, polygamy is common in both the BDSM subculture, as well as the Poly subculture (people who practice polygamy and are not affiliated with a specific religion, i.e., some Mormons practice polygamy, but because they do so as part of a religious observance, are not Poly).

People who are in Gay, Lesbian, or Poly marriages run households, raise children, go to church (or not), are active in the community, pay taxes, and vote.  What they don’t have is the same legal status as Heteros.

This point seems to go over people’s heads quite a bit, so let me spell it out in crayon: We are married, and as married people, we wish to have the legal recognition and rights currently reserved for pair-bonded heterosexuals.

I am open to intelligent discussion and inquiry on the pros and cons of this issue.  However, any argument counter to this that falls into the category of religious dogma, personal phobia, or “Chicken Little” imaginary damage to children and society, are without merit.

The gauntlet is officially thrown :)

Posted on Oct 22, 2008 at 11:07am by Lightbearer Comment #9

Marriage is just a contractual obligation between parties. Making value judgments about which arrangement if any is better is ridiculous. The institution of marriage is a bad deal, no thanks.

Posted on Oct 22, 2008 at 12:26pm by Some Guy Comment #10

I found bits of this podcast amusing. DJ: “Does a candidate’s position on SC appointments trump all else for you?”, ET: “Yes.”, DJ: “And there was a candidate who expressed those views in the debate last week” ET: “Yes, but that’s not to say I’m endorsing either candidate.

Posted on Oct 23, 2008 at 3:33am by whig Comment #11

I find Mr. Tabash’s perspective myopic and grossly oversimplifying, even though I likely share all of his cardinal values.
Specifically, the idea that religion is what makes people anti-abortion or anti-gay. This is correlation vs causation problem. He correctly notes that opponents to women/gay/bi rights are religious and therefore assumes religion is causative. I do not accept this to be the case. I don’t even buy it when Christians cite the Bible to establish their position. Why not? because those same people are clueless about the Bible. How is it a person can simultaneously base their life on something and not have any idea about it? They can’t, they don’t. They simply reach for the most convenient means to justify the bigotry they already own.
Of course it is not as simple and clean as I paint it either.. but I’m being concise.

Posted on Oct 25, 2008 at 9:35am by sate Comment #12

The logical argument against abortion comes down to whether children are people or not. This is due to the arbitrary choice of where to call a fetus human. Except for conception and birth any other choice is arbitrary. I will err on the side of caution.

I agree with your framing of the issue, although it is not as binary as we would like. That said, any choice is arbitrary including conception and birth. Conception is a far messier, greyer area than most people realize. Even if it weren’t it is far from clear why you can say ‘this tiny bag of proteins is a human being, but this one here is not’; likewise for birth. It’s a person after passing through a fleshy canal but not before?

If you look at countries where gay marriage is legal you will see that the meaning of marriage is diluted. This cannot be a good thing.

As opposed to our country, with its 50+% failure rate and driv-thru weddings? Or perhaps as opposed to countries with rigidly defined non-gay marriage such as Syria and Iran? Certainly no dilution of marriage there, ‘though you do have women regularly setting themselves on fire which seems a bit of a negative vote for the status quo.

I think I trust the trust the conservatives more than the liberals.

Who says what is liberal? Conservatives championed for decades the idea of state’s rights, personal responsibility/self determination and small government/limited regulation and oversight. Isn’t that how we go into this financial mess? Through radical deregulation of markets? I’m just saying it is conservative values of gov’t non-interference and self-determination that necessarily philosophically support individual and state’s rights. I might trust the conservatives more than the liberals except that conservatives who actually hold conservative values seem to have vanished from the Earth the same moment the GOP got total control of the federal government.

Posted on Oct 25, 2008 at 10:11am by sate Comment #13

Why isn’t the new interview available yet? :question:

Posted on Oct 26, 2008 at 12:48pm by Lucretius Comment #14

I am not sure where to start. This is my first post. I listened to this podcast and was so incensed that I had to post.

.....

BTW, I am an conservative atheist.

Welcome -  it’s good for the forum to have a spectrum of views.

Tabash had an earlier interview which I found interesting—
http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/3665/#32800
You will see that a number of us were skeptical. But he speaks well and makes a good (if over-stated) case for his position.

Jackson

Posted on Oct 26, 2008 at 5:05pm by Jackson Comment #15

I am not sure where to start. This is my first post. I listened to this podcast and was so incensed that I had to post.

The logical argument against abortion comes down to whether children are people or not. This is due to the arbitrary choice of where to call a fetus human. Except for conception and birth any other choice is arbitrary. I will err on the side of caution.

If you look at countries where gay marriage is legal you will see that the meaning of marriage is diluted. This cannot be a good thing.

I think I trust the trust the conservatives more than the liberals.

BTW, I am an conservative atheist.

Well if you think the argument against abortion is whether children are people or not,then somebody is spinning their wheels.Of course children are people.The argument should center around population control.Like you said “...this cannot be a good thing” and “I will err on the side of caution”.Exactly right!Surely thousands more of unwanted,unplanned children cannot be a good thing for society.
The argument should also center around who has the right to kill which people,arbitrarily or otherwise.I can tell you that it is much more humane to stop an unknown,unseen and unwanted life form,than it is to drop bombs on innocent people who have already started their lives,and are actually loved by people.Lots of children are dying from bombs and hunger and disease.
  Abortion is a proven technique for birth control,and it works just fine until people can find better,more effective methods of controlling unwanted pregnancies.Obviously condoms and pills aren’t 100% effective,or there would be no abortions.Oh!They would be if people used them?Right!But they don’t all the time,therefore they aren’t effective all the time.
  As a conservative,I know you want the right to choose.The right to choose who lives and who dies! :zip:

Posted on Oct 26, 2008 at 5:37pm by VYAZMA Comment #16

I am not sure where to start. This is my first post. I listened to this podcast and was so incensed that I had to post.

The logical argument against abortion comes down to whether children are people or not. This is due to the arbitrary choice of where to call a fetus human. Except for conception and birth any other choice is arbitrary. I will err on the side of caution.

If you look at countries where gay marriage is legal you will see that the meaning of marriage is diluted. This cannot be a good thing.

I think I trust the trust the conservatives more than the liberals.

BTW, I am an conservative atheist.

Conservatives all want the right to choose.Choose who lives and who dies!The fact that you’re an atheist carries absolutely no weight.So what…you’re an atheist.Define atheism.
How do you feel about all the children who have left the womb,and are actually loved by people?The innocent children and adults who are killed by bombs and hunger.How about people being killed on death row?You want to decide where a person becomes a person in the womb.It’s arbitrary right?What about the arbitrary justice system we have?Shouldn’t we err on the side of caution there too?What about bombing population centers?Shouldn’t we err on the side of caution there too?

Posted on Oct 26, 2008 at 5:47pm by VYAZMA Comment #17

I got 2 posts there!The second one is a shortened one from the first,which didn’t come up for some reason right away.

Posted on Oct 26, 2008 at 5:49pm by VYAZMA Comment #18

If you look at countries where gay marriage is legal you will see that the meaning of marriage is diluted. This cannot be a good thing.

Oh,gosh darn, I’m so glad that Brittany Spears drunken 57 hour marriage and Elizabeth Taylor’s 9 ostentatious weddings did so much to strengthen the meaning and sacredness of marriage. Having your wedding performed (literally) by an Elvis impersonator helps too! People have been married in clown suits, underwater in swim suits and while parachuting. The lists are endless, and you worry about two (wo)men committed to each other that want to have the dignity of a simple ceremony?
Two CONSENTING adults????

Posted on Oct 26, 2008 at 7:15pm by asanta Comment #19

Except for conception and birth any other choice is arbitrary. I will err on the side of caution.

You could hardly know all of the circumstances involved when a woman decides to have an abortion. Your position is both demeaning and insulting to women.

Posted on Oct 26, 2008 at 7:20pm by asanta Comment #20

Except for conception and birth any other choice is arbitrary. I will err on the side of caution.

You could hardly know all of the circumstances involved when a woman decides to have an abortion. Your position is both demeaning and insulting to women.

I agree with asanta that it has to be the choice of the woman. 

However, I don’t think the entire discussion is simply black&white;—there are heartbreaking areas of grey.  Infanticide is abhorrent and terminating a viable fetus (as medical science progresses from the early 21st century) is not desirable. Neither is an abortion because the child would be female.

But overall it has to be the decision of the woman.

But you can be a conservative atheist and agree with abortion rights. Actuallly you can be a conservative atheist and agree with gay rights as well.  They both follow from a secular “do onto others as you would have them do unto you” sort of thing.

Posted on Oct 27, 2008 at 2:59am by Jackson Comment #21

But you can be a conservative atheist and agree with abortion rights.

Agreed. I have always viewed the controversy as an attempt to convert a fraction into a boolean “yes or no”. The fertilized egg is some tiny, tiny fraction of a ‘complete human being’. With the passage of time, the developing creature inside the womb gains more and more ‘humanhood’ until at birth it is 100% human. Since we have no methodology for assigning partial human dignity, we end up asking “Do we treat 70% human as full human? 50%? 30%? 0.001%?” And of course there’s no objective answer to this question. So we all yell and scream at each other, protest, demonstrate, bomb abortion clinics, and so forth. That methodology has also failed to produce an answer.

Posted on Oct 27, 2008 at 8:33am by Chris Crawford Comment #22

Well, except that anything without a functioning nervous system and brain is not a person.

Posted on Oct 27, 2008 at 8:44am by dougsmith Comment #23

Well, except that anything without a functioning nervous system and brain is not a person.

OK, so you draw the line at, what, about 40%? Other people draw the line elsewhere, and there’s no way for anybody to prove that their line is better than anybody else’s (I hope I’m not starting to sound like a broken record). That’s our problem.

Posted on Oct 27, 2008 at 9:18am by Chris Crawford Comment #24

OK, so you draw the line at, what, about 40%? Other people draw the line elsewhere, and there’s no way for anybody to prove that their line is better than anybody else’s (I hope I’m not starting to sound like a broken record). That’s our problem.

On current best evidence, there is no way to reasonably argue that something without a functioning brain is a person. One may argue that it is “human” in the same sense that my skin cells are human, but it is not a person.

The only way to get to the argument that a thing without a brain is a person is to argue for an explicitly supernatural notion of “ensoulment”, and then I’m afraid that the onus is on them to demonstrate the existence of the ghost in the machine. And further, what then of the universal claim that one is dead when one’s brain ceases to function?

So yes, there is a way to prove (that is, rationally demonstrate) that certain ways of drawing the line are nonstarters. This doesn’t end every debate, for sure, but it does end some of them.

Posted on Oct 27, 2008 at 10:11am by dougsmith Comment #25

Doug, I personally find your criterion agreeable, but there are a whole bunch of people who believe that life begins at conception—that 0.00001% human is the same as human. But I’ll play devil’s advocate (actually, I think I find the devil more respectable than these right-to-life people, but what the hey). They don’t need to insist on a soul. They can argue that the fertilized egg is human because, in the normal course of events, it will become a human. Now, this argument does have a serious flaw: it argues that something is what it isn’t, but could be. But I think that claiming that potential defines actuality has some merit. Suppose I found and start building a new company. The company buys founder’s insurance on my life. Just before the company is ready to go, I’m killed in a car accident. The insurance company argues that the company is worth zero and refuses to pay anything. The investors argue that the company did not have any sales, but that it did have the potential to make enormous profits, and they should be compensated for the loss of those potential profits. Who’s right?

Posted on Oct 27, 2008 at 10:52am by Chris Crawford Comment #26

They don’t need to insist on a soul. They can argue that the fertilized egg is human because, in the normal course of events, it will become a human. Now, this argument does have a serious flaw: it argues that something is what it isn’t, but could be. But I think that claiming that potential defines actuality has some merit.

We are in agreement that it is human; it isn’t a dog, after all. But so too are my skin cells, and it’s not a crime to kill a skin cell. The question is whether or not it is a person, and to argue that it is a person without having a functioning nervous system is simply impossible, unless persons are to be identified with supernatural souls.

As for the issue of potential, I started an interesting thread about that argument HERE. Under present (or near-future) technologies, skin cells also have the potential to become embryonic stem cells. So even on that argument, we’d have it be that skin cells are persons, which is a reductio.

So no, there is no viable argument along these lines.

I should add that the mere fact that people are willing to argue X doesn’t mean that there is actually a good argument for X.

:)

Posted on Oct 27, 2008 at 11:02am by dougsmith Comment #27

I should add that the mere fact that people are willing to argue X doesn’t mean that there is actually a good argument for X.

Absolutely! And I suppose I should not have played devil’s advocate, because I don’t accept even the arguments I offered. So I agree with you both on your reasoning and your conclusion. Our problem with abortion is not a logical problem, it’s strictly a political problem.

Posted on Oct 27, 2008 at 11:25am by Chris Crawford Comment #28

I should add that the mere fact that people are willing to argue X doesn’t mean that there is actually a good argument for X.

Absolutely! And I suppose I should not have played devil’s advocate, because I don’t accept even the arguments I offered. So I agree with you both on your reasoning and your conclusion. Our problem with abortion is not a logical problem, it’s strictly a political problem.

I find it curious that none of the people in the ‘life begins at conception’ camp want criminalization of fertility clinics as much as of abortion. Surely, fertility clinics are responsible for many many times more murder. Perhaps the newcomer has an answer on that.

Chris, are there any more interesting positions you don’t believe in you’d like to share? Feel free to make something up on the spot. Forum wranglin’ is 42% creativity, 27% punctuation and 19% “unsure”.

Posted on Oct 29, 2008 at 3:10pm by sate Comment #29

Our problem with abortion is not a logical problem, it’s strictly a political problem.

No, actually, it is a VERY personal matter, between a woman, her conscience and her doctor. Politics needs to stay out of this.
The only reason there is no legislation to outlaw fertility clinics,on the grounds that the unused fertilized embryos are discarded, is that everyone knows someone who is having difficulty with fertility, and even those who don’t have a snowballs chance in hell to afford such a clinic can hope and empathize with these couples.  I also fail to see the distinction between throwing the fertilized eggs down the drain vs using them for stem cell research. How is one treatment ‘dignified’ and the other abhorrent?

Posted on Oct 29, 2008 at 3:26pm by asanta Comment #30

No, actually, it is a VERY personal matter, between a woman, her conscience and her doctor. Politics needs to stay out of this.

Well, yes, but that’s not stopping the people of South Dakota (or is it North Dakota?)

Posted on Oct 29, 2008 at 5:29pm by Chris Crawford Comment #31

Well, yes, but that’s not stopping the people of South Dakota (or is it North Dakota?)

...or GW Bush, whose girlfriend had one when he impregnated her while he was in college, or John McCain with his parenthetical “life of the mother” sneer, or Sarah Palin who famously could only name Roe v Wade as one she disagreed with, or the current incarnation of the Supreme Court if they get their way, because at least 4 of them say that the Supreme Court should make descisions based on the bible rather than the constitution if there is a disagreement between the two….
<my head hurts!>

Posted on Oct 29, 2008 at 5:58pm by asanta Comment #32

It is very sad that Prop. 8 passed.  Tabash did indicate that that
could happen in such a socially liberal State.  Denying the rights
of the people is not what a Constitution of the USA is for, that is
a misuse, a abuse, and fascist.  It is the tyranny of the majority
against a minority group that we have all been warned about.  This is
part of the shame that I feel about my country.  A Constitution, in
the USA, is meant to protect the rights of the citizens by limiting
and dividing the government powers, and the foremost right of the
US Bill of Rights is the separation of church and state in order
to protect our religious freedom.  I feel so mixed about the grand
and happy events this past election, and the dark and dire events.

Tabash was correct to point out the onslaught of religious monies
used against freedoms for our wonderful GLBT citizens.  The proof
is now in, that their monies can even sway the vote of California
to exclude a minority group in their Constitution.  The power of
these religious monies needs to be checked, and Jefferson’s wall
of separation needs to be strengthened for the sake of restoring
justice for all of our citizens.

CA Prop. 8, voting results.

Posted on Nov 18, 2008 at 8:58pm by jump_in_the_pit Comment #33

I have confidence in our State Supreme Court in seeing it as it is.
(love your avatar!)

Posted on Nov 18, 2008 at 9:24pm by asanta Comment #34